The hair growing through a section of skin in the image above gives an idea of scale. Elements within our skin are tiny parts of a complex organ, essential for protection, temperature regulation and sensory perception.
This organ has developed to suit our bodies, from the same building blocks which create scales, feathers, or hooves in other species. In our case, formed into three different layers, the epidermis, dermis and hypodermis.
The hypodermis is an extra layer beneath our core skin, attached to the dermis by collagen and elastin fibres. This mainly consists of adipocytes, fat gathering cells which store reserves of energy and help with heat regulation.
Thinking of our skin as consisting of the epidermis and dermis is quite normal and these are the areas most likely to be at risk of skin cancer.
Our skin brings benefits, dispelling waste products through sweat and turning sun exposure into vitamin D. The downside is that too much exposure to the sun’s rays can have a negative effect, changing internal cells into a cancerous state.
As the nearest to the sun, our epidermis is most at risk. This mainly consists of cells called keratinocytes, including a lower layer called basal cells. They help to produce normal skin and the most common form of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma.
Other keratinocytes called squamous cells, which help to make the skin strong, can also be a point of weakness. The next most common type of skin cancer called squamous cell carinoma develops in these cells.
In the deeper layers of the epidermis, on top of the dermis, is a further range of cells called melanocytes. They produce melanin, which gives colour to our skin but are again liable to sun damage and cancerous changes.
The cancer in all cases is unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells, causing mutations, or genetic defects and rapid cell multiplication, which brings tumours.
Our skin cells normally contain DNA repair enzymes, to help reverse UV damage. A few people lack the genes for these enzymes and can suffer higher rates of skin cancer, although they are not entirely effective and none of us are immune.
The same would apply to lighter skin colour, or atypical moles. They are indicators for a higher rate but skin cancer can come regardless of colour, age, gender, or predisposition, with the amount and duration of sun exposure a key factor.
The ability of different types to spread and cause deeper damage varies. Basal cell carcinoma is the least likely, squamous cell carinoma more so and melanoma the most dangerous but all can cause unwanted symptoms, or disfigurement.
Alongside the risk is good news. Diagnosis and treatment of skin cancers have advanced significantly in recent years, cure rates for most types are approaching 100% with the right support and all important early detection.
The skin on your face is quite thin compared with other areas, such as your back, yet is often the most exposed. This also sits on key areas for eating, or breathing, for your senses and to living life in many ways.
Specialist maxillofacial care ensures all these aspects are taken into account and as importantly, brings dedicated knowledge for diagnosis, or treatment planning.
Treating skin cancers on your face, lips, eyelids, ear lobes, or other delicate areas requires the right approach. To bring a cure, carefully consider cosmetic outcome and understand how the condition can affect the way you feel.
Remembering that skin cancer care is about people matters. By all means read more on the way we approach individual consultation and the varying types of skin cancer, or contact our friendly staff to discuss any concerns you have.